Yes, MAGNIFICATION (Beyond, 2001).
I was only age 33 when Magnification first came into the world. Now, fifteen years later, as I approach age 49, I find myself marveling that this was the last Yes album released with Jon Anderson’s vocals. I’m by no means a Yes purist, but I certainly think of Anderson as synonymous with Yes. Regardless. . . how well has this album held up?
One of the great problems with mixing rock and classical music is the actual choice of traditionally classical instruments employed. When it comes to the staples of rock—bass, drums, and guitar—certain classical instruments work extremely well in accompaniment. Others, not at all, or rarely so. Generally—at least to my untrained ear—deep strings and woodwinds work best with the traditional instruments of rock.
Brass and light strings do little for me, especially when mixed with rock staples. Hence, David Palmer’s 1993, SYMPHONIC MUSIC OF YES, has always sounded like Muzak with a disco beat. A kind of “Hooked on Prog.” It wasn’t good in 1993, and it sounds horrible now.
Squire’s use of classical instruments on his FISH OUT OF WATER (1975), however, has always sounded outstanding and is dated not in the least.
When Yes chose to work with Larry Groupe to compose and orchestrate the classical elements of MAGNIFICATION, they chose the wiser, Squire-esque path. In many ways, MAGNIFICATION is a Yes masterpiece. While nothing Yes does will ever live up—at least to most Yes fans—to what the band produced between 1970 and 1977, Magnification holds up as well as a cohesive album as anything since 1983’s 90125. Like all post-GOING FOR THE ONE albums, MAGNIFICATION has a dud or two, such as “Don’t Go,” but when the album works, it works so well that it really makes up for anything wrong with it.
The first two tracks, especially, capture the spirit of Yes. Coming in at a little over 13 minutes, “Magnification” and “Spirit of Survival” not only soar musically, but they also reach toward the highest of Yes lyrics.
In this world, the gods have lost their way.
When Anderson sings this line, the soul aches from the sheer beauty of the presentation and the meaning. This is not only one of the finest lines in prog and rock, it’s one of the finest lines in modern English. The transition from the first to the second track is also as good a transition as one can find in the prog world, a genre known for its spectacular transitions. “Dreamtime” is another astoundingly good Yes track, equal to any single thing written by Yes between 1970 and 1977.
Back in 2001, the only thing that frustrated me—and it frustrated me immensely—was that Yes had released several different versions of the album, the difference being the bonus tracks (orchestral) that came with each version. Those version, sadly, appeared spefically at Bestbuy, Borders, etc. It seemed like a cheap and very un-Yes like way to make a little extra money. After all, doesn’t Anderson preach something akin to radical socialism and universal spiritual brotherhood? I don’t think that was the message Bestbuy was sending out in 2001. Having recently just had two children born into the family (then), I was in no position to buy more than one version of the album, and the bonus tracks that came with the various versions are now extremely hard to find.
Regardless, the album is spectacular. In some ways, it’s even better than it was 15 years ago, in large part, because unlike so many other releases from Yes as well as from other bands, it has aged so beautifully. If the more or less original Yes had to end, MAGNIFICATION was a very good ending.